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Section Zero: Background submitted by
Hello all, happy hoildays! I stumbled upon this subreddit not long ago and have enjoyed the commentary and experiences everyone's shared. Wanted to add another perspective from a mid-30s first-gen American. I've had some missteps regarding careers and finances, but I feel like I'm in a slightly better place now. I tried YNAB in the past but I wasn't consistent enough with it. These days I use Mint to monitor my finances and have a "Finance Friday" each month to review all my accounts and spending. I currently live with my partner TJ and his dog RR. We do not combine finances, but he has been unemployed since March. I have helped him with some bills and basic necessities here and there until he finds his next job or career.
My current financial goals are to just maintain a status quo and not get any debt until pandemic times are over. Then I will focus on a house remodeling fund and savings for taking care of my parents. Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents taught us about money from a frugal perspective. They are immigrants who worked in food service/factories. There was always this “save save save” mentality. Even when they started their own small business, we saved like there was no tomorrow. In high school, my calculus teacher bought us all “The Millionaire Next Door” book and had us read it as an assignment - that was my first structured introduction to finances. Did you worry about money growing up?
No, there was always food on the table and a roof over our heads. I knew that our extended family would support us if needed. Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Yes. My dad didn’t finish the high school-equivalent in their country, while my mom did finish high school, but no college. My older and younger siblings took a different path in life after high school. I am the first and only in my family to graduate from college. My parents covered all tuition for my two bachelor degrees with the agreement that I support them fully during their retirement and send them gifts/extra money whenever I can. I feel very lucky and privileged that they were able to provide that education for me. At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
24 when I went on a work holiday abroad. My family was always available to help when needed, but the experience abroad helped me stand on my own feet. As an adult, I also inherited that “save” mentality and put a lot of my earnings towards savings. I didn’t date until my 30s, lived frugally, didn’t go out to eat/hangout with people, shopped thrift stores, and had very few hobbies. I am starting to “live a little” now though. Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income?
Aside from the tuition, my parents have helped with a down payment for my first house and living costs during periods of unemployment.
Section One: Assets and Debt Retirement Balance
If the place I was working at offered a 401k, I would always contribute up to the company match. I started my IRA in my mid-20s and would try to contribute the yearly max. I've stopped that the past 2-3 years though. My Other Brokerage is some play money, but I got tired of staring it and switched to index funds. I haven't contributed anything to it in a few years.
Equity if you're a homeowner
- 401k: $34,127 (5% company match on contributions)
- Brokerage: $22,421 ESPP
- Roth IRA: $40,615 VTIVX
- Rollover IRA: $15,760 VTTHX
- Other Brokerage: $7,235 VTI
- Coinbase: $1,286 ETH (mostly just playing around with it)
Purchased my first home for $382,000 with 20% down, right before lockdown earlier this year. Perfect timing, right?? I plan to live here until my retirement. My parents contributed $15k while I used most of my savings for the rest. Savings account balance:
$3,073 Checking account balance:
$7,800 Credit card debt:
I charge everything on my credit card for the points, then pay it off each month using my checking account balance. Student loan debt:
Traditionally no student loan debt as mentioned in Section Zero.
Section Two: Income Income Progression (listed as gross income with cost of living area):
- $11/hour MCOL - Helped with small family business.
College and first “career” job
- $12-19/hour MCOL - I did events/banquet serving after classes and had an internship doing software administration.
- $22/hour MCOL - Junior web developer. I realized after a year that programming was not my calling.
Mental health break
- $12/hour LCOL - Work holiday abroad. I got a steady banquet server job for that whole time. It was enough to live minimally in a hostel, do weekend trips, WOOF and figure my life out.
College (again) and second “career” job
- $12-15/hour LCOL - Decided to go back to school for a different bachelor's degree. While pursuing that degree, I worked at hotels and events as a banquet server again. I also did “search engine evaluation” whenever there were tasks available.
- $36,000/year salary LCOL - Software administrator at a casino after graduation.
- $39,000/year salary LCOL - Systems analyst at same casino. I left after 2 years, feeling disillusioned with the casino industry. I moved back home with my parents until I could get back on my feet again.
Third “career” jobs
- $20/hour HCOL - Entry level advertising role. I was applying to all types of office jobs and that was my only bite.
- $45/hour MCOL - Cold-called from a global company who needed someone with my software administrator experience from the casino job. It was an 8 month contract. Although I was starting to love my advertising job, the increase in pay was no question.
- $65,000/year salary MCOL - After the contract ended and a few months of unemployment, I landed my current job at the same company. It is an “early career” role according to their job levels.
- $66,900/year salary MCOL - Cost of living and merit increases after 2 years on the job. Pre-COVID we got a $5000 bonus each year. They have now stopped bonuses as well as all COL and merit increases.
Main Job Monthly Take Home:
Monthly Net (paid bi-weekly): $2,758
Side Gig Monthly Take Home:
- Taxes: $1214
- (Pre-Tax) Insurance (Medical, Dental, Vision, Life) + HSA: $822
- (5% Pre-Tax) 401k: $256
- (10% Post-Tax) ESPP: $514
No side gigs at the moment, but I am thinking of signing up on Upwork.com
and doing Excel/data entry projects to help pay the mortgage. Other Income:
TJ’s friend will be staying with us for a month in January, who will pay rent of $800 including utilities. Depending on how that goes, we may take on a roommate in the spare bedroom long-term.
Section Three: Expenses Mortgage
- when I bought the house, the plan was that I would charge TJ a portion of the mortgage costs as “rent”, but since his unemployment I am now covering it all myself.
Regular Monthly Payment: $1677.57
- Principal: $501.31
- Interest: $849.74
- Taxes & Home Insurance: $326.52
$30/year Retirement contribution:
Nothing additional than what's been mentioned. Savings contribution:
I used to do $50-100/month, but since COVID I’ve stopped contributing to my savings account. Investment contribution:
None at this time. Debt payments:
$100/month towards TJ's credit card balance of $2,307. Donations:
$10-20/month, usually towards Omaze or Planned Parenthood. Utilities:
- Electric: $45-65/month
- Water: $60-90/month
- Sewer: $30/month
- Garbage: $26/month
- Natural Gas: $30-80/month
- Xfinity internet: $60/month
On my parents plan. Subscriptions:
- LinkedIn: $29.99/month for TJ’s job search - he’s found it very useful.
- Amazon/Netflix/Hulu: We piggyback off family and friends’ accounts.
- Nintendo Switch Online: 19.99/year
- Costco: $60/year
Pre-COVID I did Orangetheory for a year. I started to pick up free exercise equipment from Craigslist this year, so we have a small garage gym now and utilize YouTube exercise videos instead. Pet expenses:
$10/month. TJ has stockpiled some Costco canned dog food before unemployment, but once that runs out I will likely cover the costs. We also started to make homemade dog food to help supplement. Car insurance:
$460 every 6 months. Car is paid off. Regular therapy:
I will start in the new year. Not sure what the costs are yet, but I will use my HSA to pay. Vitamins/Medications:
$20/month Groceries & household items:
$75/month Miscellaneous (eating out, house purchases, gifts, etc):
Section Four: Money Diary Monday
6:30am Neighbor starts up their truck. We joke that it's our natural alarm clock. They idle for about 15 minutes before heading off. I go back to bed.
9am My real alarm goes off. I put the electric kettle on for some morning tea. While it's boiling, I do my morning routine: drink glass of water, take synthroid, use bathroom, brush teeth, quick shower. I then make tea - Jasmine Pearl English Breakfast with dark forest mix. I started ordering loose leaf tea in large amounts back in March instead of small bags or single serving packets. Seems more economical since I drink it daily. I let the dog out into the backyard so he can do his morning routine.
9:30am I go through my daily tasks for work. They entail checking processes and reports to make sure they ran successfully overnight. I then answer some emails and catch-up on Slack channels.
12pm Lunch is leftover roast chicken and quinoa from Saturday. I heat it up in the instant pot. Love that thing! Almost every meal of ours involves the instant pot. We hardly use the stovetop. We then walk the dog to the business park across from our neighborhood. There's a very short trail that runs along a drainage creek by the business park. It's quite muddy, but has a nice woodsy feeling. Over the summer, we saw sumac trees there as well. Free sumac spice!
1:30pm Department meeting on Zoom. Our director announces his resignation on the call. Everyone is shocked! Layoffs were announced for next year but this was not a part of it. I think it's a good move for him and he doesn't have to have this worry of layoffs over his head.
3pm I meet with an engineer from another team and talk about a data source they are in charge of. He helps me out in understanding it and we identify most of the fields that I need for a project I’m starting.
5:30pm I check in with my partner. He's been watching LinkedIn tutorials on internal recruiting, job coaching and general computeoffice skills. It's a career change that he wants to make - something where he can talk to and help people. He doesn't have a bachelor's, only an associates, and hopes these tutorials will get him a leg up in the job search. I sent him some entry level HR admin roles the other day and remind him to apply. I then heat up leftovers: homemade chana masala and rice. I add some butter and coconut milk to thin it out, so there's enough for both of us.
10:30pm I take some magnesium, vitamin D and Airborne. I say goodnight to the dog who sleeps in the office. Then I say goodnight to TJ. He sleeps in the spare bedroom on weeknights due to his snoring keeping me up. I'm a light sleeper while he is a pretty deep sleeper.
Daily total: $0 Tuesday
9am I check Reddit Secret Santa. My match seems like a really good person. Not sure what to get, but most likely will purchase something off their wishlist. I wish I was more creative with my gift giving.
11am Meeting with business stakeholder. She submitted a few changes to an existing data process about a month ago. I make the change while on the call and have her test. Success! Marking it off the todo list. I love when we can finish things directly on a call.
12:30pm I come out of my office to make lunch. I notice my partner is not home. I check my messages and see that he's stepped out to pick up a few things. I ask for celery, carrots, and kombucha. $17. I make a quick charcuterie board for lunch: Costco salami, cheese, homemade hummus and Triscuits. It's a simple, fast meal that’s always in our rotation.
2pm My partner is back and we take the dog out for a walk and quick round of disc golf at a nearby park. We mask up and play only a few holes. Disc golf is a pretty frugal activity, you only need 2-3 discs to get started. TJ remarks that my throws are getting better, but then again they weren't great to start with. We talk about Christmas/Birthday gifts on the way back home since he was born on New Years Day. He mentioned snowshoeing but asked to not spend that much. I'll do some research!
5pm I think about personal career projects. Should I put up a portfolio of projects somewhere? I decide to try and pull some Yelp data. There’s not a lot of data points that I was interested in. Regardless, I tinker with it for an hour. TJ asks if I'm hungry. I said not so much, but felt thirsty. Maybe some ginger soup tonight?
7:30pm Dinner is served - ginger carrot soup made in the instant pot. We eat some rice crackers with it. Lately I feel like we've been eating more vegetarian dinners. It definitely helps stretch our food budget. We end the evening by finishing Fargo season 3 on Hulu.
Daily total: $17 Wednesday
1:30am I'm woken up by the dog. He's been sneezing a lot and wheezes at random intervals. TJ doesn't have the money for a vet visit but I've offered to pay as long as he calls to make the appointment. I give the dog some coconut oil, rub his belly until he seems better and go back to bed.
7am Garbage day. We usually put it out the night before but I forgot. I get up to go, but TJ handles it. I think, at least. I'm too sleepy to pay attention and go back to bed.
9am I wake up and rinse some dishes that have piled up and put them into the dishwasher. We both grew up in households that had a home dishwasher, but forbade from using it. It was drilled into us that hand washing saves more water, unless you had a restaurant/industrial dishwasher. I think with modern home dishwashers, that's changed, so I wanted to try it out with our dishwasher and monitor the water bill. Don't have any dishwashing pods or powder, so I put some OxiClean in it.
12:30pm I overhear TJ on a call with a recruiting agency. It seems to be going well, lots of laughing. I heat up some taco lasagna that I freezer meal-prepped last month.
2pm Collaborate on a project at work with an engineer. My manager put me on this project since I was asking for an assignment on a more technical team. I'm learning tidbits here and there, but I don't feel like it's structured enough.
5pm I do an Orangetheory-At-Home workout and try to break a sweat. It's not the same as going to their studio.
6pm Charcuterie for dinner. Our fridge is full of store-bought and homemade pickles that go super well on a charcuterie board.
Daily total: $0 Thursday
7am I wake up tired. The house has been feeling more cold, which woke me up a few times. We keep the temp at 72F during the day, at night around 68F since we thought the bedrooms keep the heat in pretty well. My mistake!
9am I do my usual morning routine and login to work. My team mostly spends the morning sending each other emojis.
11:30am Lunch today is mini quiche, frozen chicken and veggie entree, and hot dogs. Not the most cohesive meal, but it fills the belly.
12:30pm TJ heads out to his mailbox that's 30 minutes away. He is still waiting on his tax return and a 401k withdrawal. His taxes had to be filed by mail for some reason, then the IRS office shut down due to COVID. So he wanted to see if it arrived yet at the mailbox. He also takes the dog to the vet's urgent care on his way. They didn't have any regular openings available until the end of the year, and the dog seemed to be getting worse. I give TJ $40 to mail a gift package to a friend in France and also reiterate that I'll cover the vet bill when he gets it.
4:30pm I pay some bills, my favorite activity (not
)! Sewer bill: $59.44 (billed every 2 months). Geico bill: $459.60 billed every 6 months. Then I follow up with my mortgage officer over email. I had sent her some documents for a refinance quote last week, but haven't heard back. Rates keep dropping, so I'm told, but what does that really mean? I do some research on realestate
5pm TJ messages me and says he'll be back for dinner. I ask him to pick up some Popeyes via drive thru since we both don't feel like cooking today. Popeyes is currently our fancy “going out to eat” food. $24.17 for a 4pc dinner meal and a 2pc dinner meal.
Daily total: $583.21 Friday
8:30am Busy morning at work. My phone is buzzing with emails and Slack messages. I try to answer them while I make tea.
10am Zoom Department happy hour. We reminisce about our director and then play those Jackbox party games. Some of them are hard!
11am TJ asks if he can make me anything for lunch. He suggests savory oatmeal, quick and easy. I tell him that I really appreciate him making meals/doing chores/etc without me prompting. We've been having conversations about "house project management" and mental load because I did most of the chores or I had to continually remind/tell him to do it. I'm really happy to see us progress on this front. I decide to work through my lunch break so I can end the day early. I don't often do that, but I'm ready to get the weekend started.
2pm I check on TJ in the spare bedroom and ask if the dog has been fed yet, since he was nipping at my feet. I notice something off about TJ and ask how he is doing. TJ is depressed about his personal life, career, finances. He doesn't know what to do, spends half the day meditating and reflecting on past trauma. I've been prodding him to get a therapist but he is confused about his insurance. He makes an appointment with a primary care doctor first. I feed the dog some homemade dog-friendly beef stew.
4pm My mom swings by the house (but doesn't enter). She currently works at a school who distributes free USDA food boxes since March. There's often many boxes leftover that would go to waste, so she will grab a box for us. Onions, potatoes, beets, turnips, eggs, cheese, butter, frozen veggies and frozen chicken. She also brought her vintage pasta maker. I asked last week if she ever used it these days and her reply was “no, feel free to have it”. I love pasta and noodles and figure it would be great to make it ourselves as a frugal hobby.
8pm We catch up on Mandalorian and watch silly Youtube videos before heading off to bed.
Daily total: $0 Saturday
9am I open up my web browser and look at Craigslist and NextDoor for free stuff. I've been scouring for free landscape rocks, pegboards, and wood for house projects. I had this grand ambition to redesign our backyard. It faces our neighbor and currently the fence is pretty low. They can see into our kitchen and bedroom and we can see them. But y'know, COVID and going from dual income house to single income means it all has to be put on hold. So I've been looking for free items in the meantime. Over the past months, I've gotten planter pots, plant cuttings, a raised bed, stepping stones, all from free listings. I don't see anything worthwhile so I go and make some tea.
11am I look at Amazon and make some purchases for Reddit Secret Santa. A foodie kit, DVD of their favorite movie, and some cute pens for their writing hobby. $54. I hope they like it!
12pm TJ heats up leftover stir-fry for lunch for us. I put on some Binging with Babish and we watch how to make pasta. We have a plan - TJ makes the pasta, I make the sauce. Perfect date night activity at home. We watch some more videos on pasta and noodles to educate ourselves.
4pm I start prepping veggies. Big batch of onions, canned tomatoes, ground beef and butter in the instant pot. Meanwhile, TJ works on the pasta by following Babish's instructions.
7pm We gorge on fresh made pasta and bolognese sauce. It's so good! We end up watching Fargo.
11pm Usually I'll be in bed by now, but it's a Saturday and not tired yet (probably because of all that pasta). We play some Kirby's Dream Course on the Switch.
Daily total: $54 Sunday
10am Quick walk around the neighborhood with the dog. He's on a new routine now with the medicine he's taking. It seems to be helping his breathing issues.
11am The pasta maker and flour is still out since we didn't clean up yesterday. There's some old pie crust in the fridge so I roll it out with the pasta machine for mini quiches. (Sally's Baking Addiction blog is my go-to place for her all-butter crust and quiche recipes btw). TJ helps by mixing up the eggs.
3pm I play some Genshin Impact (GI) on my phone while TJ plays Starcraft in the office. I don't usually play gacha games, but the Zelda BotW-style of GI appealed to me. A gacha game is a game with randomized characteitem boxes that you use real-money to purchase a “pull” or to spin the wheel. I know the gacha parts of the game can be a real money sink if you get addicted to them, it’s almost like gambling. My main team is Fischl, Bennett, Barbara and Noelle. I level up to AR 22 and look up free-to-play tutorials for the game.
6pm There's some leftover pasta from yesterday, enough for both of us. I throw in some roasted beets to round out the meal. We watch more Fargo while eating. Almost done with Season 3!
10pm I find a tour operator who offers a small, socially-distant snowshoeing tour up on the mountain. I reserve for two people - this will be TJ's Christmas/birthday gift. $75. Off to bed for another workday.
Daily total: $75 Weekly Total: $689.79
Section Five: Reflections
- Food + Drink: $41.17
- Fun / Entertainment: $75
- Home + Health: $59.44
- Clothes + Beauty: $0
- Transport: $459.60
- Other: $54.00
Aside from the car insurance bill, this was a typical week for me, COVID or not. We make the majority of our meals at home and usually splurge on drive-thru/delivery once every other week. I may have overspent on the Secret Santa gift, but I don't often give gifts out to friends. It's not something our family does either. For TJ’s Christmas/birthday gift, we usually talk upfront about costs. I’ve gifted him fancy restaurant experiences the past 2 years, since we can share that experience, but obviously can’t do that now. Snowshoeing is a nice change of pace.
The conversations with TJ this week have given me thought on how to approach him differently about finances and working together in a relationship. I’m still unsure about the future financially, particularly as my parents near retirement age and that TJ has pulled out his 401k to pay his debts. I don't know if I can support both my parents and TJ together, so I am finding ways to upskill and/or side hustles without becoming a workaholic or bogged down by stress.
Writing this money diary was also the first time where I really paid attention to my past income and current income. I might be contributing too much into ESPP that could go towards the 401k or mortgage instead? I also seem to have been underpaid for what I did in past jobs, even in a LCOL area.
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